Priscilla Slade and the TSU Three

Spurred on by a fellow student's death, Oliver Brown, William Hudson and Justin Jordan ran a gauntlet on their way to bring down a president

William Hudson says he had been on schedule to graduate at the end of the summer of 2005 in the same class as his mother, Sharon. That family dream was no longer a reality; now they just prayed Hudson would be allowed to attend his mother's big day.

"When William finally was granted permission to come," says Sharon Hudson, "there were police officers standing in front of him, and it was so obvious they were not situated around other families like that. And everybody was staring. When I finally walked across the stage to get my diploma, they escorted him right out and would not let him stay for the rest of the ceremony. And afterwards, when we all wanted to take pictures together, we couldn't because William had to stand across the street off university property, just waiting for us all by himself. It just broke my heart."

Hudson and Jordan's arrests were what Jordan calls "just the wake-up call we needed to start getting smart." The trumped-up criminal charges scared the three students, and they knew they had to get what they felt was really happening at the university on the record. So, Brown and Jordan started tape-recording their phone conversations with TSU officials.

Photographs by Daniel Kramer
Justin Jordan
Photographs by Daniel Kramer
Justin Jordan

The first phone call they recorded was between Jordan and then-regent Johnson. The TSU Three had heard rumors that the newly built Student Recreation Center's foundation was cracked and that nothing was being done to fix it because the performance bond purchased by the construction company in 2000 was no good. Jordan's conversation with Johnson confirmed the rumor, and in the students' minds, set off alarms that former chairman of the Board of Regents and current Secretary of HUD Alphonso Jackson, along with other regents and administrators, was covering it up.

According to the tape obtained by the Press, Johnson says, "I discovered the damn recreation center was crumbling. I walked over there one day and I am like, what in the hell? And what did they do, Justin? They tried to cover that shit up."

Later on in the tape, Johnson says, "And you know, but see, when Alphonso was the chairman, shit, he was the chairman. Man, please, you don't know the half of it. I got cussed out over the bogus bond."

The Student Recreation Center was built by KAI Construction out of St. Louis. According to the bond paperwork filed with the university, KAI's president, Michael Kennedy, secured a $10,378,022 performance bond in 2000 from National Assurance Guaranty Group Inc. out of Las Vegas. However, according to both the Nevada Division of Insurance and the Texas Department of Insurance, the bond company has never been licensed to sell insurance in either state.

When asked about the bond, TSU spokesman Terrence Jackson deferred to the Texas Attorney General. Attorney General spokesman Tom Kelly says that the state is monitoring the situation but that outside counsel is leading the effort to resolve the issue. So far, TSU's board of regents has decided not to file a lawsuit against KAI, says Kelly. The law firm Kelly says is handling the case, Andrews Myers Coulter, did not return the Press's phone calls.

In October, federal agents began an investigation of Jackson in connection with his allegedly granting a friend from South Carolina a no-bid contract for a construction project in New Orleans.

Michael Kennedy did not return the Press's phone calls.

During the tape-recorded conversation between Johnson and Jordan, Johnson tells the student, "I can help you at Texas Tech. And, umm, yeah man, if you quiet down on campus, all this shit will blow away. Keep your head in the game, boy."

Jordan says Johnson wanted Jordan to make peace between the university and the TSU Three.

Johnson "offered me a study-abroad trip to Rome funded by Dr. Slade's office, or he said he knew board members at Texas Tech and that they were trying to recruit minorities and he could help me out," says Jordan. "He even told me he'd talked to top Republicans in the state and they wanted me to leave Dr. Slade and everyone at TSU alone. And he made reference to Bush 41 as one of them. I thought it was crazy and would never have accepted."

Still, Jordan says he believes Johnson is one of the good guys.

"He is very genuine and I believe that he wants to do the right thing," says Jordan. "But I think he made a lot of bad decisions when it came to this whole ordeal."

Johnson says he is limited as to what he can say due to the TSU Three's lawsuit.

"I believed that the young men needed to be heard," he says, "and I took the opportunity to talk to them. Now, when they tape-recorded me, I really took issue. At that point, I really didn't know if I could trust them. I was trying to be forthright and honest with them, but it didn't stop me from caring about the young men."

The day after Jordan made the tape of Johnson, Brown says he took a copy of it to the FBI. He says he told agents about his suspicions, and the next thing Brown knew, he was acting as an informant. FBI spokeswoman Patricia Villafranca says she can neither confirm nor deny Brown's claim.

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